Editor’s note: We would like to thank Jessica Jones, Student Success Center Coordinator at Arizona State University, Tempe (Arizona), for providing this piece. To contact the author, please email Jessica Jones. If you would like to share your writing center’s experience during COVID-19, please submit via WLN.
Online tutoring has been available through University Academic Success Programs (UASP) at Arizona State University (ASU) since 2012. As the coordinator for online services since 2013, my focus has been to increase awareness of and access to these online services, with special focus on promotion to online students. Despite this focus, I was often hearing from students, staff, and faculty that they did not know online tutoring was available as a free service. In an effort to increase awareness, in Spring 2019, I created an Online Tutoring Open House event that would be marketed directly to newly enrolled online students to showcase online tutoring options, demonstrate the technology, and provide opportunities to ask questions. The initial event was successful and has continued to be held three times each semester since Spring 2019 for ASU Online students from all over the state, country, and world.
When the COVID-19 pandemic required ASU to close all in-person services after Spring Break in 2020 and move all tutoring online, questions arose as to the best way of communicating the changes to students and explaining how to connect with online tutoring. I had already scheduled the next Online Open House for new students who were starting online classes for the first time after spring break, so the event was a ready-made opportunity that could be shared with all currently enrolled students, including those who had been scheduled to take in-person classes, about how to use UASP’s online tutoring.
Consequently, the content of the event was revised for the expanded audience. Given the need to communicate that all tutoring had transitioned online, several changes needed to be highlighted. I shared with the attendees about all of the services available: Supplemental Instruction, Writing, Graduate Writing, Graduate Statistics, and Subject Area Tutoring. Information was shared about each service, what hours were available, and how the hours had been expanded to allow greater access. After explaining the services, I shared my screen to demonstrate how to use UASP’s website to search availabilities, schedule appointments, and connect to the online center.
Since ASU was using Zoom as its meeting platform, the Open House event was also hosted in Zoom to allow attendees an opportunity to experience the platform they would see when using tutoring. The event was also recorded emailed to students who indicated they could not attend but still wanted to learn more about services. The event grew from 55 students at the first event to 141 at the most recent, with many more requesting information about services because they could not attend. Hosting the Open House served as a way to create connections when students may have felt disconnected from the university.
The model of the Open House events has continued to expand as a way for UASP to build these connections as students are online. In late April 2020, the department’s hiring committee hosted an event in a similar format to promote available student staff positions and answer questions about the positions and application process. As UASP is preparing for the fall semester, the plan is to host multiple versions of the Online Open House event for specific populations and to tailor the information shared to highlight services that will be of particular interest. The goal of these events is two-fold: to inform students about the resources available to assist them outside of the classroom and to help them feel connected to the university even if they are not physically on campus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned all students into online students overnight creating new challenges and opportunity for innovation. According to Ross and Sheail, when students encounter challenges when taking online classes, such as issues with time management or feelings of isolation, they often perceive those challenges as being solely due to the online modality (840). Suddenly there were thousands more students encountering challenges with online classes, in addition to challenges resulting from the pandemic, potentially at risk of not being retained. Despite the impact on our writing centers, by changing the focus of existing events like the Online Open House to support a wider student audience, UASP was able to promote support services to all students. It shows students that a community is still here and they are not alone, despite the challenges we all face.
Ross, Jen & Phillippa Sheail. “The ‘campus imaginay’: Online students’ experience of the masters dissertation at a distance.” Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 22, no. 7, 2017, pp. 839-854. https:/doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2017.1319809.